Japanese ingredient guide
Aonori: Commonly described as green seaweed, aonori is dried edible seaweed flakes commonly used to flavour other Japanese foods.
Daikon: From the radish family, daikon has a light peppery flavour. Can be eaten raw or cooked or pickled.
Dried shiitake: Shiitake is an edible mushroom native to Japan and prized for it flavour and use in its cuisine.
Furikake: A dried condiment used to sprinkle over rice. It typically consists of dried and ground up fish, sesame seeds, seaweed, salt and sugar. It also invariably includes monosodium glutamate (MSG). It is often presented as colourful flakes and is sometimes spicy and is very commonly used in Japan to season children’s lunchbox rice.
Kombu: Kombu is a dried kelp used for making dashi stock. It is much thicker in appearance than nori and should not be eaten. It requires reconstituting in warm water to use.
Mirin: Mirin is an essential condiment used in Japanese cuisine. It is a cooking wine similar to sake but made from sticky rice.
Miso: Miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning paste made from fermented soy beans and/or rice and barley. It is used for making soup and for seasoning in sauces and dressings. It comes in white, red and mixed varieties, each with their own individual flavour, texture and appearances. White (shiro) is typically sweeter than the darker looking red(aka) and mixed(awase) versions but like a lot of Japanese varietal foods, changes from region to region.
Nori: Thin sheets or strips of edible seaweed that has been toasted and seasoned. The finished product is made by a process involving shredding and rack drying, similar to papermaking. It is commonly used as a wrap for onigiri and sushi and is also used as a garnish in soups and noodle preparations.
Potato starch (katakuriko): Japanese potato starch is a highly white, gluten free, refined starch with a neutral taste and an ability to absorb excess moisture. It helps provide the crunch factor to frying tempura.
Ramen: Thin long wheat noodles.
Rice: For Japanese cuisine always use the short grain variety.
Rice vinegar: Japanese rice vinegars are not as strong as their Chinese counterpart and are considered very mild and sweet by comparison. Commonly used to flavour plain rice for sushi or similar dishes.
Sake: This traditional Japanese alcoholic beverage it is sometimes called rice wine as it is made from fermented rice. There are two types of sake Futsu-shu (shu meaning alcohol) and Tokutei meisho-shu. Futsu-shu is the equivalent of table wine and is the most commonly produced. Tokutei meisho-shu is the premium variety and is distinguished by the lack of additives, added percentage of alcohol and by the degree to which the rice has been polished.
Soba noodles: Soba noodles are made from buckwheat flour and they have a nutty flavour. Some soba noodles also have wheat flour in them, so check labels if you need gluten-free.
Soy sauce: A traditional condiment made from a fermented paste of boiled soybeans, roasted grain and brine. Soy sauce (shoyu) has a distinct basic taste called umami, which means “pleasant savoury taste”. There are 5 common types of soy sauce each with their own subtle difference in ingredients and method of production:
- Koikuchi: roughly translated means “thick flavour”. Koikuchi accounts for the majority of soy sauce produced with over 80% of soy sauce on the market being this type. This is the “standard or plain” type you find in most Japanese restaurants.
- Usukuchi: is considered the “weak taste” variety. It is saltier than plain soy sauce (koikuchi) and lighter in colour.
- Tamari: is darker and richer in flavour than Koikuchi and is commonly used for sashimi. This is wheat free and can be used by people with gluten intolerance. It is considered the “original” Japanese soy sauce as its recipe is closest to the soy sauce introduced to Japan by Buddhist monks from China in the 7th century.
- Shiro: literally means white. In direct contrast to Tamari, Shiro shoyu uses mostly wheat in its production and very little soybean giving it a light appearance and sweet taste.
- Saishikomi: twiced brewed this variety of soy sauce is darker and more strongly flavoured.
Sushi vinegar: Used to flavour cooked sushi rice, sushi vinegar is rice vinegar that contains salt and sugar.
Udon noodles: Thick wheat noodles with a neutral flavour.
Wakame: Edible seaweed with a slightly sweet flavour.
Wasabi: The root of the wasabi plant is used as a condiment most notably in sushi. It has an extremely strong and hot flavour. It is sold as a ready to use paste in tubes and powdered in tins but traditionally it is finely grated to a paste just before eating.